The View magazine hooked up with Robert Story, one of the world’s most sought-after fashion set and spatial designers, who creates elaborate and amazing sets and shows for the likes of Christopher Kane, Victoria Beckham, Nike, POP and Chanel.
TV: Hi Robert, tell us a bit about you.
RS: Hey! I’m 29, living and working in Hackney, East London. I grew up in rural England but studied Sculpture at Central Saint Martins, London. When I graduated, I interned for some artists in New York but soon after started assisting set designers in London before starting my own studio ‘StoreyStudio’.
TV: When was the very first time to got in touch with creativity, and how has this made an impression on you?
RS: I have always been creative and would rather have been drawing or making something in the garden than watching films or TV, in fact I think I missed out on a lot of pop culture because I was too busy engaging in building tree houses with my brother, or drawing pictures for my relatives birthdays. The men in my family have all been very creative, especially with woodwork, I was always surrounded by furniture that my grandfather or father had made.
TV: You work with physical objects, have you always been interested in art and things that you can touch or hold in your hands?
RS: Naturally growing up in an environment where my dad would never buy anything and choose to make it himself, I was compelled to be the same way. I enjoy the physical and am always inquisitive to understand how something is made. I remember as a child having toys and not understanding how they work, so destroyed lots of things trying to make sense of their make up.
TV: Can you share about your time at CSM (Central Saint Martins), fine art, and how this eventually evolved into set and spatial design for the fashion world?
RS: CSM is renowned for its fashion school, so naturally being there meant I came into contact with a discipline that I had not even thought about as a vocation. I had no interest in fashion growing up but soon came into contact with a wealth of talented young designers who inspired me with their way of responding to briefs that weren’t too dissimilar to my own, I think because of these interactions I began to understand how sculpture or art can work in the context of so many disciplines if translated correctly. As an art student I was always interested in 3D as sculpture or installation, I hadn’t understood that my practice at the time was predominantly exploring the idea of space, and how this would later lead me to set design or spatial design but I enjoyed playing with how subtle nuances of objects can play such a large part in how you perceive or feel within a space, this fascinated me and enabled me to build up an understanding of how to manipulate space, and how I liked space to be manipulated.
TV: Take us through a set design project, who are involved, how does it all come to place? How does it work?
RS: Set design can translate into many different disciplines from photo shoots to theater productions and event design. For me, my set design practice manifests itself in many different ways ranging from still life styling to designing catwalks or retail/store design. Everyone has a different process and that can depend on who you are working with and whether that is an editorial or commercial project. Editorial projects are generally a creative conversation between photographer, stylist and set designer, working together to realise a common idea, the thing I love about working on shoots is everyone bringing their own ideas and expertise together to create something new and iconic.
TV: Based on recent editorials and campaigns, the sets of which brands really stood out in your eyes and why?
RS: I’m excited by brands and photographers who challenge what we have already seen before and aren’t afraid to try something which might shock or change perception of what luxury or fashion is now. I’m a big fan of Tyrone Lebon and Harley Weir as well as Mary Katrantzou and Kenzo.
TV: Let’s talk about spatial design. Aside from size, how different is it from set design in terms of project management, workflow, intention, public response, and attention?
RS: Spatial design takes on a whole meaning from what set design in. Firstly, designing a space generally means there is going to be an interaction with the space by the public rather than with a fashion set which can only ever be experienced through a photograph or by the model within it. I am excited to create a world in which you can be immersed, a space which can be explored. When designing a space rather than a set you need to consider the details and the finished as they can be seen close up, I like to pay attention to making something properly that can be seen form all angles, I feel sad sometimes when I design a set which is seen static form one position rather than another angle which I may have preferred but didn’t work in a fashion image.
Spatial projects are also generally more self initiated as a studio, we tend to come up with the concept and see that concept move through initial ideas and designs through to production and completion- we have a lot more control with this process as to how the space is experienced and finished.
TV: At a show, the public isn’t suppose to physically interact with the stage, while in a store the public can. How do you take this into account? Are the materials for permanent fixtures more durable, people-friendly, more expensive, etc?
RS: Safety, budget and longevity. Budgets are eternally a constraint as well as safety, I need to always consider that people will be interacting with my design so need to ensure firstly that whatever I do will be safe. Aside from this it depends on the time scale of the project, if it is a permanent space, we of course use much more durable materials but if it is something more temporary and we have a limited budget then we can sacrifice using such a premium materials for something more economical.
TV: You are also building a portfolio of video work, is that to bring some variation to all the physical designs? How do you work for a video project?
RS: I am making video work mostly with a long term collaborator Quentin Jones, I love her work and find the process of making film with her very exciting. For me, making a video sits somewhere between ‘set design’ and spatial design. You never know where the camera is going to go so have to make sure the set is flexible and well finished.
TV: After a full week of hard work, you love to do…?
RS: Socialise with friends and travel to other cities.
TV: Thanks Robert!
Check out his work on the StoreyStudio website.
Interview minimally edited to keep authenticity.